Parallel evolution of relative clauses in Indo-European

by Nikolas Gisborne & Robert Truswell (University of Edinburgh)

The Indo-European indefinite/interrogative pronouns *k wi-/k wo- are the source of relative pronouns in several daughter languages, including varieties of Romance, Slavic, and Germanic among others. These pronouns did not head relative clauses in PIE, and so their presence in the relative clauses of the daughter languages is a result of processes of historical evolution which have recurred in different subfamilies. However, this recurring parallel process is by and large confined to Indo-European. Comrie (1998) claims instead that the interrogative relative pronoun strategy is a European areal phenomenon, because it is also found in neighbouring languages such as Hungarian and Georgian. However, there is ample evidence that endogenous innovation gives rise to interrogative relativizers in English and several other Indo-European languages. This suggests that such endogenous processes may be wholly or partly responsible for the emergence of interrogative relativizers across Indo-European. However, these processes are not the same across daughter languages: there appear to be several meandering paths from the same start point to similar endpoints.

In this talk, we establish a framework for describing both the parallel diachronic pathways and the dimensions of variation around those pathways. The broad outline of the parallel developments can be established by combining a typological perspective on Indo-European indefinite/interrogatives with results from Haspelmath (1997) on the relationship between interrogative and indefinite pronouns, from Belyaev & Haug (2014) on the typology of correlatives and conditionals, and from Haudry (1973) on the relationship between correlatives and headed relatives. At the same time, the behaviour of individual lexical items within this typological space is less predictable, accounting for the variation around this broad pathway.

This paper will be read at the Annual General Meeting of the Philological Society in Oxford, Somerville College, on Saturday, 16 June, 4.15pm

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 2

Tracing The Development Of An Old Old Story: Intensificatory Repetition In English

by Victorina González‐Díaz (University of Liverpool)

The present paper explores the synchronic distribution and historical development of an intensificatory construction that has so far received little attention in previous literature on English; i.e. what Huddleston and Pullum (2002) label as INTENSIFICATORY REPETITION (e.g. old old story, long long way). Synchronically, the paper records the existence of two functional subtypes of repetitive intensification (affection and degree) and expands previous accounts by showing the functional versatility of the degree intensificatory subtype. At the diachronic level, the paper dates the establishment of (degree) intensificatory repetition to the Late Modern English (LModE) period. It also suggests that (a) intensificatory affection was the first repetitive (sub)type to develop in the language, and (b) that its collocational expansion from Early Modern English (EModE) onwards may have paved the way for the establishment of its degree intensification counterpart.

More generally, the paper shows that formulaic phraseology can contribute to the development of fully productive constructions and advocates the need for further study of ‘minor’ intensificatory constructions (such as the one explored here) and the way in which they may help to refine current standard descriptions of the English Noun Phrase.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12114

TPS 116(1) – Abstract 1

Contrastive Feature Hierarchies in Old English Diachronic Phonology

by Elan Dresher (University of Toronto)

This article looks at the origins and uses of contrastive hierarchies in Old English diachronic phonology, with a focus on the development of West Germanic vowel systems. I begin with a rather enigmatic remark in Richard Hogg’s A grammar of Old English (1992), and attempt to trace its provenance. We will find that the trail leads back to analyses by some prominent scholars that make use of contrastive feature hierarchies. However, these analyses often appear without context or supporting framework. I will attempt to provide the missing framework and historical context for these analyses, while showing their value for understanding the development of phonological systems. I will show that behind these apparently isolated analyses there is a substantial theoretical edifice that once held a central role in synchronic as well as diachronic phonological theory, and which is still capable of providing insights into the workings of phonology.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12105

Russian Evolution: Russian Reflections (Conference, October 21st, Senate House, London)

by Mary Coghill (Institute of English Studies, University of London)

I am arranging a conference on the work of the Russian Linguist and philologist, Yuri Rozhdestvensky (1926-1999), Professor at Moscow State Lomonosov University.

Russian Evolution: Russian Reflections
A Conference on the work of Yuri Rozhdestvensky: Diachronic Philology and his Contribution to Narratology in poetics

The conference is to be held at The Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London 21st October 2017.  Further details and booking facilities are available on the conference website, and also on the poster.

My own conference presentation is entitled:

Rozhdestvensky and the ‘image of the author’ explored with reference to his book General Philology (1996, Moscow)

Keywords: Yuri Rozhdestvensky; V V Vinogradov; Diachronic Philology; Roman Jakobson; Narratology

May I ask philologist bloggers two questions:

  1. Are there any member(s) who are especially interested in Russian philologists/linguisticians, especially Viktor V. Vinogradov and/or Roman Jakobson?
  2. What is ‘diachronic philology’?  Can it be defined as the study of philological development as a process to be studied in its own right?  I think (cautiously) that this is how I would define it.  I am not (so far) aware that it is defined at all.  It seems to me, that there are those who are interested in languages other than their native one and are engaged in comparative philology; those who study how a particular language alters over time and are engaged in a historical study; but who studies philology itself as a theoretical process – not as a study of the individual components of philology, as for example the history of the book – but as a quest for a theory of the process of the development of culture?

I would welcome any answers to the above and please do come to the conference; you can contact me at Mary.Coghill[at]sas.ac.uk .

TPS 115(2) – Abstract 5

The Sanskrit (Pseudo-)Periphrastic Future

by John Lowe (University of Oxford)

The paradigmatic status of the Sanskrit periphrastic future is widely taken for granted. I argue that all the criteria for distinguishing the periphrastic future as a paradigmatic tense formation from a syntactic collocation of agent noun plus copula are problematic, except in one small set of Sanskrit texts. The evidence requires a nuanced diachronic approach: in early Vedic Prose we may reasonably speak of a paradigmatic ‘periphrastic future’ (though it may not be periphrastic), but outside this period the formation is merely a special use of the agent noun.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12102

Exaptation: acquiring the unacquirable

by Benjamin Lowell Sluckin (Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly University of Cambridge)

I was fortunate enough to receive a PhilSoc Masters Bursary in 2015/16, which has been of greater value to me than the £4000 awarded. It enabled me to study for an MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at my institution of choice, the University of Cambridge. I’m happy to say it was worth it!  So before I get down to writing about my experiences of postgraduate study and research, I want to thank PhilSoc for their generosity and for seeing value in that hopeful letter of application penned in early Spring 2015.

First I’ll say a bit about my general experience and then I’ll get down to the linguistic meat. Cambridge is a weird and wonderful place. It is like stepping into a time machine and stepping out in 1870 where everyone has a MacBook. It is a bubble, as everyone says; the real world seems distant and at times one can feel claustrophobic. However, the bubble is good for doing research. It is quiet, there are talks almost every day and there was always the possibility of valuable academic discussion with my peers and seniors in the department, from whom I learnt a great deal.  Like any University, but perhaps especially, there is also the constant opportunity to have your assumptions about everything and anything challenged by those who know better, or at least pretend to do so. The Masters Bursary allowed me not only to learn some serious linguistics, but also to acquire the ability to power a very unstable boat with a very long stick. All in all, I learnt a great deal. I can now say with some confidence that I understand enough syntax to understand what people are disagreeing about most of the time, but not to always understand why they insist on disagreeing.

In my bursary application I said I wanted to specialise in diachronic morphosyntax in Germanic and I specifically “promised” to look at exaptive changes in language (my thanks to George Walkden whose support and lectures got me thinking about these things). In short, Lass (1990, 1997) said that when form-to-function mappings are eroded in language, we can be left with functionless linguistic “junk” which can then be co-opted for an unrelated function. The canonical example from Lass (1990) is the recycling of afrikaans gender marking from Dutch syntactic agreement marking for gender and definiteness (1a,b) to conditioning by the morphological character of the adjective itself (1c,d): simple vs complex.   I found Lass’ ideas interesting and I knew that David Willis in Cambridge had been working on this topic, so I was keen to get in on the action (for lack of a better term). Once arrived, he was always ready to challenge my ideas and encourage me to refine my arguments.

(1) Examples
a. Dutch common/neuter definite & common indefinite

de gevaarlijk-e muis/paard
the dangerous-e mouse.com/horse.neut

b. Dutch neuter, indefinite

een gevaarlijk-∅ paard
a dangerous-∅ horse.neut
(adapted from ex.23, Norde & Trousdale 2016:187)

c. Afrikaans simple adjective

die groot groep
the large-∅ group
([Lubbe & Plessis 2014:28] cf. Sluckin 2016:6)

d. Afrikaans complex adjective

die belangrik-e rol
the important-e role
([Lubbe & Plessis 2014:21] cf. Sluckin 2016:6)

Scholars have argued about exaptation for 25 years; so I will admit now that I approach this problem from a minimalist perspective. That means: I focus on Child Language Acquisition as the primary locus of morphosyntactic change, I reject junk, i.e. functionless material as impossible (like many but not all), and crucially my work assumes that the syntactic architecture is based on a hierarchical generation of formal features and projecting heads, and so on and so on….

This type of change is especially interesting because, in my mind, it shows the incredible capacity of the child acquiring language to regularise seemingly incoherent data. Research into exaptive reanalyses can tell us something about how humans can make good data from bad data.

So what is bad data? Well “junk” doesn’t work if we assume that every utterance is somehow a representation of linguistic units stored in the lexicon – or whatever we call it. Sadly,  I don’t have the space elaborate on all past approaches (see Vincent 1995; Willis 2010, 2016; Lass 1997, and Van de Velde & Norde 2016 for a review), but my hypothesis can be summed up as follows: breakdown in language can, over time, render structures increasingly difficult to acquire; this can reach a point where the target structure—dare I say parameter—is no longer acquirable from the input. The child is faced with the choice of losing the structure or finding any other possible analysis. What’s the difference between this and any other reanalysis, I hear you ask. Well, one standard view is that reanalysis works on the basis of ambiguity between possible analyses; so if there are two or more possible analyses, the child is more likely to choose the simpler one (2a). If the more economical analysis were not found, the original would still be available from the input. I argue that for exaptation what we instead find is that the original analysis is removed completely for the acquirer (2b). Therefore, any new analysis does not rely on ambiguity between the target and other analyses, as the target just doesn’t factor for the child making sense of the input.

I have tried to test this for syntax alone, whereas past work focused more on morphosyntax. The questions I am trying to answer is: how pervasive is exaptive reanalysis and what strategies do children use to find analyses when they can’t draw on strategies of economy. To these ends, I am looking for explanations orthogonal to Universal Grammar. My MPhil thesis research on the collapse of V2 and its reanalysis as Locative Inversion in Early Modern English involving the actuation of locative formal features, e.g. out of the woods came the bear, seems to suggest that phonologically silent syntactic heads might be especially vulnerable to this kind of change, as their acquisition is purely dictated by overt syntax (3a,b: trees for those who like them – click on the “Read more” button). Metaphorically speaking, we knew Pluto was there before we could see it because we could see things orbiting it. Syntax works similarly, the only difference is that if we change an orbit we change the planet, or rather syntactic head, too.  I am pursuing these ideas with larger case studies as part of my PhD project at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where I am now part of Artemis Alexiadou’s  research group.  I am also trying to see how grammar competition, language contact and exaptive reanalysis might go hand in hand in certain situations.

Continue reading “Exaptation: acquiring the unacquirable”

TPS 114(3) – Abstract 5

Negation in Colonial Valley Zapotec

by Carolyn Jane Anderson and Brook Danielle Lillehaugen

This paper presents an overview of negation in Colonial Valley Zapotec (CVZ) based on a corpus of texts written in Valley Zapotec between 1565 and 1808. There are four negative markers in CVZ, two bound (ya=, qui=) and two free (aca, yaca). Standard negation employs a negative word and an optional clitic, =ti. Understanding the syntax of a historical form of Valley Zapotec allows us to make some observations about related forms in modern Valley Zapotec languages, in particular San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec (SLQZ). For example, the morpheme =ti, which is required in clausal negation in SLQZ, is not obligatory in any negative constructions in CVZ until around 1800. In Vellon 1808, the youngest text in the corpus, we observe =ti required in one type of clausal negation. This allows us to observe details of the development of the modern Valley Zapotec negation system, including the fact that the remaining changes leading to obligatory =ti in clausal negation in SLQZ must have occurred within the last 200 years.